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"It's time to gear up again," says Joe Sample (left), the brilliant keyboardist who, nearly a half-century after the birth of THE CRUSADERS, is leading the charge for the group's renewal. "This reunion was long in coming," he continues, as he listens to the final mix of Rural Renewal, the first new album from The Crusaders - featuring Sample and saxist Wilton Felder (below) - in over 20 years.

These bandmates first joined together in Houston in the fifties with the formation of The Swingsters. Once in senior high, The Swingsters became The Modern Jazz Sextet, a group that continued through their college years at Texas Southern University. Before graduation, though, the call of the road was irresistible, and they were off to L.A.

Two years later, in 1960, the group was signed to Pacific Jazz Records and re-christened The Jazz Crusaders. Their trombone/sax frontline sound was unique, their bop chops impeccable. In a series of superlative albums, The Jazz Crusaders built a national reputation, surviving a decade in which the popularity of jazz was in extreme decline.

By 1971, "Jazz" was dropped and The Crusaders marched into new territory, unencumbered by category. The march continued through the '70s, culminating at decade's end with the remarkable worldwide hit "Street Life."

In the following years, The Crusaders worked both together and individually in the studios, backing everyone from Marvin Gaye to Steely Dan to Joni Mitchell. Meanwhile, The Crusaders' oeuvre expanded into one of the great jazz/soul collections of the modern era. Their landmark albums - The Second Crusade, Unsung Heroes, Southern Comfort, Chain Reaction, and Those Southern Knights - took on iconic status in more ways than one. The Crusaders catalogue has become perhaps the most sampled in the world. The infectious grooves and licks from those songs are a veritable backbone of today's neo-soul, rap, and hip-hop music.

Joining The Crusaders is Ray Parker, Jr. Born and raised in Detroit, Parker got his introduction to the music business early, backing up hometown favorites on the Invictus and Motown labels in the late '60s and early '70s. He put together Raydio in the late 1970s with Arnell Carmichael, Darren Carmichael, Larry Tolbert, Jerry Knight, and Charles Fearing. Signing with Arista, their first release "Jack and Jill" went gold, becoming the foundation of Raydio's success.

The hits kept coming over the next few years, and after "A Woman Needs Love" hit number one in 1981, Parker decided to be a full-fledged solo act. His approach reached its zenith with the theme to the 1984 flick Ghostbusters. Driven by the movie's immense popularity, the song rode all the way to the top spot on the pop charts.

Born in Macon, Georgia and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, RANDY CRAWFORD first sang in the choir loft of her neighborhood church. By the tender age of 15, she had already established a reputation as a promising young vocalist on the Midwestern club scene, and an early venture overseas quickly added a growing coterie to European fans to her audience. By the time she reached 21, she had already shared the stage and studio with the likes of such jazz legends as Quincy Jones, Cannonball Adderley, and George Benson.

In 1976, Crawford released her acclaimed debut offering Everything Must Change. It was followed by a solid string of hit albums and singles, including "Street Life," her historic collaboration with The Crusaders, and her signature "One Day I'll Fly Away" from 1980's landmark Now We May Begin. Polished and passionate releases such as Secret Combination (1981), Nightline (1983), and her smash 1986 album Abstract Emotions (featuring the hit single "Almaz") made her a household name on five continents, with a touring schedule that took her to Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, and North America on a regular basis. She performed live before the pope, shared top billing on the jazz festival circuit with the likes of Ray Charles, Al Jarreau, and Joe Sample, and lent her name and talent to benefit concerts for the United Nations and the newly formed government of South Africa.

Yet, despite her busy tour itinerary, Randy Crawford has continued to record some of the most intriguing and inventive albums to be found in the jazz, pop, and urban-contemporary soundscape. Such internationally acclaimed releases as Don't Say It's Over, Every Kind of Mood, Naked and True, Rich and Poor, Through the Eyes of Love, and Permanent have consolidated Randy Crawford's reputation as an artist of rare ability and extraordinary range.